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SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

What a tournament this has been! It’s Day 15, senshuraku of the Aki Basho, and I can EASILY say that this was the best basho of the year . . . quite probably the best in several years! Sure we come into the final day with yusho [tournament championship] already decided, but this has been such a stellar competition, I don’t really mind that the winner was decided a day early.

Yokozuna Hakuho continues his flawless basho by handing ozeki Goeido his third loss of the tournament. This not only secured the Aki Basho yusho for him (the 41st of his illustrious career), but was also his 1,000th victory in the Makuuchi Division (also his 806th win at the rank of yokozuna). If he wins today, he’ll get his 14th zensho-yusho [no-loss tournament championship]—also building on a record he already owns.

After some struggles in the middle of the tournament, ozeki Tochinoshin got his 8th win yesterday against M4 Abi. This gave Tochinoshin his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and erased his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. Unfortunately for Abi, it was his 8th loss, meaning that he is make-koshi [majority of losses] and will drop in the rankings for November’s Kyushu Basho.

There are seven rikishi sitting “on the bubble” with 7–7 records. For them, a win today means promotion, and a loss means demotion. These are invariably some of the highest drama, most hotly contested matches of any tournament. 

Another sign of what a strange basho it has been, for the first time since the end-of-tournament special prize structure was created (back in 1971), there were NO sansho [special prizes] awarded for this tournament. Apparently, the only ones doing well were the rikishi that were EXPECTED to excel.

The matches to watch today include:

M12 Nishikigi (9–5) vs. M8 Kotoshogiku (7–7)—The first of our bubble matches. Former ozeki Kotoshogiku started the tournament strong, but has struggled since the middle weekend. A win today, though, will get him his kachi-koshi. (4:21)
M15 Chiyoshoma (8–6) vs. M7 Tochiozan (7–7)—Bubble match number two. Tochiozan has run hot and cold all basho. What temperature will he be today? He’s never lost to Chiyoshoma in six previous matches. (5:50)
M6 Kagayaki (7–7) vs. M10 Daieisho (7–7)—A cruel pairing of two bubble rikishi. Should be a high energy bout. (8:25)
M3 Shodai (6–8) vs. M1 Kaisei (7–7)—If Kaisei wins he’ll not only be kachi-koshi, but very likely will get promoted up to a sanyaku rank in November. And he’s never lost ot Shodai in their previous six meetings. (9:45)
M5 Asanoyama (7–7) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (8–6)—Asanoyama needs one more win, but he’s got to do it against a komusubi who has been fighting tough all basho. Should be an exciting match. (11:05)
M5 Myogiryu (8–6) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (7–7)—The last of our bubble matches. If Ichinojo wins, he gets to remain a sekiwake for a fourth straight basho. (12:25)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (10–4) vs. ozeki Goeido (11–3)—Kisenosato is fighting for yokozuna pride, and Goeido is fighting to be the sole runner-up for the yusho. (If Goeido loses, he’ll still be the runner-up, but he’ll have to share the honor with three other 11–4 rikishi, including Kisenosato.) (15:30)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (14–0)—Hakuho has secured the yusho, but if he wins here it will be a zensho-yusho! (16:30)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 14)

My stay in the hospital kept me from reporting on the middle of Week 2 of the Aki Basho … which is a real shame because this has continued to be a GREAT tournament. But I’m home now, and there’s A LOT going on today:
* If yokozuna Hakuho wins he secures both his 1,000th victory in the top division AND his 41st yusho [tournament championship]—both building on records he already owns. He’s facing ozeki Goeido, who continues to fight with surprising strength and focus.
* Ozeki Tochinoshin still needs one more win to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and overcome his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. Today he fights the long-armed Abi who is fighting to stave off his make-koshi [majority of losses].
* Yokozuna Kisenosato faces yokozuna Kakuryu and each has yokozuna pride on the line. Kisenosato is trying to show that he really does still have what it takes to match up against his fellow yokozuna. And Kakuryu has lost three matches in a row, so he wants to shake that off and show that he can still dig down deep when it really counts.
* Sekiwake Mitakeumi no longer has much chance of getting the ozeki promotion he was shooting for, but he DOES fight an ozeki today—Takayasu—and if he can win then he at least can say that he beat two out of the three ozeki this basho. Then he can go back to trying to put together three back-to-back-to-back tournaments that are good enough to earn a promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank.

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 11)

We’re two-thirds of the way through the Aki Basho, and Day 11 starts with tow yokozuna still undefeated atop the leaderboard—Kakuryu and Hakuho. However, we’ve had a bit of a drop off in the contenders as only ozeki Takayasu remains one win behind the leaders.

Takayasu squared off against fellow ozeki Goeido yesterday. It was a pretty stellar match, and even though Goeido lost, he still seemed to be focused and strong. My fear was that he’d slip into his too familiar lapse of concentration, and to tell the truth, I’m even MORE worried about that today. He has a long history of NOT bouncing back from adversity and instead following up a loss by coming to the dohyo with a resounding mope. If he can avoid that today in his match against M3 Shodai, Goeido can still be a force to be reckoned with in the current yusho [tournament championship] race.

For his part, for someone who started the basho with recurring back pains, Takayasu has looked rock solid. He hasn’t been doing anything fancy, but he always seems to bring what’s needed to the dohyo with him each day. That will for sure be put to the test today as he faces co-leader Hakuho in the final match of Day 11.

Hakuho showed he’s still the “king of the ring” yesterday by handing a loss, and manhandling, the behemoth sekiwake Ichinojo. Something happened during the match that Hakuho didn’t like, and if you go back and watch yesterday’s video again, you’ll see that he gives Ichinojo some extra smacks to the side of the head mid-bout plus a final dame-oshi [extra shove] thump to the chest when the match was done. 

Kakuryu, the other co-leader, also continued to put in a strong performance, refusing to slip into his old “pull and backpedal” ways despite the fact that sekiwake Mitakeumi took control at the tachi-ai [initial charge] of their bout. Kakuryu calmly dug in his heels, waited for his opponent to power down a little, and then reversed the charge, giving him a reasonably easy win. It also gave Mitakeumi his second straight loss to a yokozuna AND served what may be the final blow to the sekiwake’s hope for a promotion to ozeki. At 6–4, Mitakeumi would have to win all of his remaining matches to get to double-digit wins, and even that might not be a strong enough showing to earn him the promotion.

Ozeki Tochinoshin bounced back from back-to-back losses with a solid and powerful win over M1 Kaisei. This puts his record at 6–4, meaning he only needs two more wins to overturn his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. Of course, he faces Kakuryu today, and then still has to fight both Hakuho and Takayasu before the basho is done, so it’s no easy feat ahead of him.

NOTE: Sadly, I wound up going to the hospital and not being able to get this posted anywhere near on time … so there’s really no need to list the matches of the day. But here is the video just for your enjoyment.

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Aki Basho and our leaderboard is beginning to thin out. At the very top, still unbeaten, are yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Hakuho. One loss behind them are ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, and M13 Ryuden. 

Interestingly, both Hakuho and Kakuryu seemed to dodge bullets yesterday. Hakuho got wrapped up in a tense match against sekiwake Mitakeumi, who is quickly losing ground on his hopes to attain an ozeki promotion at the end of this basho. Mitakeumi unexpectedly got the better of the tachi-ai [initial charge] and grabbed a very dominant belt grip on the yokozuna. But that is quite analogous to grabbing a tiger by the tail, as no matter what Mitakeumi tried, Hakuho had an answer for. They wound up standing in the middle of the dohyo, leaning on each other, and each waiting for the other to make a move that could be exploited. After nearly a minute of this, Hakuho made an incredible fake-out by tapping his foot against Mitakeumi’s calf. The sekiwake interpreted this as the yokozuna going for a leg trip and made a counter-move . . . but the fact is that Hakuho never intended to go for that maneuver, so he was perfectly balanced and easily rolled Mitakeumi off the dohyo. It was such a brilliant misdirection, that I laughed out loud and immediately scrolled back the video to watch it again. When all was said and done, Mitakeumi knew he’d been played, and let out a frustrated howl on the way back to the dressing room. 

Kakuryu, on the other hand, faced M3 Endo, and while he won without too much fuss, he did find himself momentarily maneuvered into giving in to his greatest weakness—moving backward and pulling his opponent. Endo, may be having a terrible basho (he’s make-koshi [majority of losses] after losing yesterday’s bout), but he’s still a tricky, skilled sumo technician, and he made the right moves against the yokozuna—he just couldn’t capitalize on them. 

The third yokozuna, Kisenosato, managed to get back in a winning way by out-muscling ozeki Tochinoshin. It was a terrific power-sumo match, despite the fact that neither rikishi is at the top of his form this tournament. I have to admit that I thought Tochinoshin had the edge, but Kisenosato has an incredible ability to lower his center of gravity and resist being moved. And once that throw failed, Tochinoshin was off balance and fell prey to Kisenosato’s powerful grip. A great match that leaves Kisenosato just one win away from his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] that will save him from having to retire. Unfortunately, it also leaves Tochinoshin still needing three wins to get kachi-koshi and escape his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] condition. 

Interestingly, ozeki Goeido is looking the strongest of all the contenders, much as it pains me to say so. He neatly handled komusubi Takakeisho, who has been giving trouble to most of othe the top-rankers all basho. Can it be that Goeido shook off his usual mental sluggishness in the early days of the tournament, and now really is focused going into Week 2? He’s certainly proven that he’s capable of that once in a blue moon, and if we’re in such a phase now he will surely be one of the yusho [tournament championship] contenders down to the wire. On the other hand, I’ve seen Goeido lose focus too many times to actually put any faith in him. 

Let’s have a look at some of today’s top matches.

M13 Ryuden (8–1) vs. M16 Ishiura (2–7)—Today’s matches opened with a biggie. Ryuden is having a great tournament and is on the leaderboard, only one loss behind in the yusho race. Meanwhile, Ishiura is having a terrible basho, ranked at the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet], and is only one loss away from make-koshi and a guaranteed demotion out of the top division. There’s A LOT at stake in this bout! (0:10)
M12 Takanoiwa (7–2) vs. M7 Tochiozan (3–6)—Not much to say about this match-up, but the bout is won by a kimarite [winning technique] you don’t see very often. (3:15)
M1 Kaisei (4–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–4)—Tochinoshin has another power-sumo match-up today against the big Brazilian, Kaisei. The ozeki needs to turn his luck around and quickly if he wants to hold on to his rank. (10:00)
Ozeki Goeido (8–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–1)—The biggest match of the day, two ozeki squaring off, each one just a single loss behind the leaders. One of them will remain in the yusho hunt, the other will fall back to the pack. (10:55)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (7–2) vs. M3 Endo (1–8)—Kisenosato needs just one more win to get his kachi-koshi, which shouldn’t be a struggle for a yokozuna, but in this case is understandable. This will probably be his best chance for an easy win for the rest of the tournament, so he’d better take advantage of it. (12:25)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (3–6) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (9–0)—Hakuho usually has no trouble with the lumbering Ichinojo. But as I noted at the beginning of the tournament, Hakuho seems to have lost a little bit of his raw power in recent months, which could be a problem when facing a 500 lb. opponent. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (9–0) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–3)—Mitakeumi had a very strong showing yesterday against a yokozuna, but came up short. It’s for certain he wants to make up for that today. In order to do that, he’s going to have to shake up Kakuryu and force him away from the straight ahead sumo he’s been doing all basho. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 9)

Today begins Week 2 of the Aki Basho, and the leaderboard has quite suddenly become more manageable. Only two undefeated rikishi remain—yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Hakuho—with four rikishi trailing at one loss apiece—ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, M9 Hokutofuji, and M13 Ryuden. Of course, there’s still A LOT of drama going on among those not on the leaderboard, too.

To begin with, yokozuna Kisenosato seems to have run into his “wall.” After starting 6–0, he’s lost his last two matches, and looked like he was a little short on both energy and power. After missing eight tournaments in a row, he promised to come back strong or, if he couldn’t, that he’d retire. Now, “strong” is a loosely defined term, but at bare minimum it’s got to include getting kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and in a strict sense, for a yokozuna it should include getting double-digit wins. Double-digits seem pretty unlikely at this point. And given that his Week 2 schedule will be filled with bouts against ozeki and yokozuna, even kachi-koshi doesn’t seem like a lock at this stage. Kisenosato has to dig deep and find the power and concentration to bring in two more wins against top-notch opponents, otherwise we might be watching the final tournament of his great career.

Today, Kisenosato will face ozeki Tochinoshin, who has problems of his own. It’s only his second basho at sumo’s second-highest rank, but because of the injury he suffered in the middle of the July tournament, he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this one, which means that he, too, MUST get kachi-koshi. He started off strong enough (though not at his best, by some stretch), but a headbutt on Day 4 seems to have really thrown him off his game. He’s currently 5–3, so he must find a way to get at least three wins in Week 2 when four of his bouts will be against his fellow ozeki and the yokozuna. 

Also in trouble, though of a less serious nature, is sekiwake Mitakeumi. He came into the Aki Basho hoping to do well enough to earn a promotion to ozeki when all was said and done. The pundits pretty much agree that means getting a minimum of double-digit wins INCLUDING at least one strong win over an ozeki or yokozuna (better if it was two). Mitakeumi started strong, but has stumbled at the end of Week 1. He’s now 6–2, which means that in Week 2 he needs four or five more victories in a schedule that will include bouts against three yokozuna and ozeki Takayasu. I don’t think he’ll have trouble getting his kachi-koshi, but he’s going to have to up his sumo significantly if he wants to get to double-digit wins and make a grab at that ozeki brass ring. 

In better news, by beating M2 Yutakayama yesterday, Hakuho notched his 800th win at the rank of yokozuna. He was already top of the list in that all-time category, but reaching such an auspicious number makes it worth celebrating again. The next significant number he’s aiming for is 1,000 career wins (another category he’s already at the top of), and he theoretically could get THAT this basho, too, if he finishes with a 14–1 or a perfect zensho-yusho [no loss tournament championship]. Otherwise, it seems almost assured that he’ll hit the 1,000 mark in November’s Kyushu Basho. Having said all that, there IS one milestone that Hakuho is surely chasing, and that is extending the number of consecutive years in which he’s won at least one yusho [tournament championship]. Already we’re in strange territory in that this is the first time since 2010 that Hakuho has failed to win one of the first four tournaments of the year, but if he doesn’t manage to win either the Aki or Kyushu basho, it will be the first time since 2005 that he failed to raise the Emperor’s Cup at all. In fact, he’s won multiple yusho in every year since 2007. 

Another day where the kyujo [absent due to injury] news is good—after missing five days due to knee injuries (yes, he hurt them BOTH), M11 Kyokutaisei is returning to action today. At 1–3–4, though, his next loss will make him make-koshi [majority of losses] and ensure a demotion of some sort. I expect he’s coming back in order to mitigate how far he’ll fall down the banzuke [ranking sheet], hoping to remain in the top division for November’s tournament.

Now let’s have a look at today’s top matches:

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—Mitakeumi has to get his performance back on track, but he’s facing Hakuho. Of course, Mitakeumi actually has a decent lifetime record against Hakuho, having won twice in their eight meetings. I predict an interesting match, if nothing else. (12:35)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–0) vs. M3 Endo (1–7)—As long as Kakuryu stays on task and keeps doing his kind of forward-moving sumo, he should have no difficulty, particularly given how off rhythm Endo has been this basho. When Endo is fighting well, he often can maneuver around until Kakuryu takes the bait and starts to step backward and pull, which is the yokozuna’s biggest weakness. (15:35)
Yokuzuna Kisenosato (6–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–3)—Two big, powerful, usually dominant rikishi who are not at the top of their game at the moment. Both really need a win to get back on track . . . only one of them can get it. (16:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

Here we are, nakabi [the middle day] of the Aki Basho and four rikishi are tied atop the leaderboard—yokozuna Kakuryu, yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Takayasu, and M9 Hokutofuji. Immediately behind them are four rikishi with 6–1 records— yokozuna Kisenosato, ozeki Goeido, sekiwake Mitakeumi, and M13 Ryuden.

Interestingly, in my commentary during Week 1, I had very little to say about the rikishi who are our leaders. Kakuryu has very quietly been performing his winning style of sumo, which is to say that he’s been moving forward in all of his matches. So far, no one has pushed him hard enough to make him even think about slipping into his “step backward and pull” maneuver, which almost invariably leads to his losing the match at hand. As long as Kakuryu keeps the forward momentum, he’s going to remain hard to beat.

Hakuho, on the other hand, has had a mix of quick, dominant wins and weird, acrobatic matches where his skill and speed saved him from tricky situations. He’s so confident, and so experienced that there doesn’t seem to be any mess that he can’t get out of. Of course, we know from past tournaments that this isn’t 100% true . . . but it SEEMS that way. Given how unpredictably he’s been performing this basho, I naturally find it difficult to predict how he’ll do once he has to face his fellow yokozuna and the ozeki in Week 2, but one thing’s for sure—on any given day, it’s never a good idea to bet against Hakuho. What’s more, Hakuho now sits at 799 wins as a yokozuna, on the verge of setting another milestone (he already holds the record) in his incredible career.

Takayasu came into this tournament having suffered a week of lower back pain, so all the pundits were uncertain about how he’d hold up to the daily grind. So far, he’s been fine. Not particularly dominant, but there has been no sign of weakness or injury. I doubt he’s going to be able to keep his undefeated streak up long into Week 2—he’s just not been showing the kind of confidence and bull-headedness he needs to outmatch his fellow top-rankers. But I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting his kachi-koshi and will almost certainly get double-digit wins. 

On the kyujo [absence due to injury] front, M2 Yutakayama is re-entering the basho today after having been absent the past three days due to an elbow strain. His reward for coming back? Having to face off against Hakuho.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Hokutofuji (7–0) vs. M13 Ryuden (6–1)—Hokutofuji is still one of our co-leaders. Ryuden may be ranked near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet], but he’s definitely better than that number would indicate, and he had a very strong Week 1. (4:25)
M4 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M6 Kagayaki (2–5)—A match that’s going to have a lot of sumo commentators arguing. Controversial to say the least. (7:55)
Ozeki Goeido (6–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–2)—Our first ozeki clash! Goeido has looked strong since a slip up on Day 1. Meanwhile, Tochinoshin has seemed out of sorts all basho, but he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and MUST win at least 8 to save his ranking. Should be a vicious match! (11:55)
M3 Shodai (2–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–0)—The next of our leaders, Takayasu, takes on Shodai, who has been fighting strong, but finding no luck. (12:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (2–5)—Another one of our leaders, Kakuryu, who has been calmly dispatching all comers so far. Today he’s goes up against the 500 lb. behemoth, Ichinojo, who has been typically slow and lumbering all tournament, but his mere size always makes him a dangerous opponent. (13:50)
M2 Yutakayama (0–5–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—The final match of the day features the final co-leader, Hakuho. He’s facing Yutakayama, who is coming back from three days of kyujo because of an elbow strain. Hakuho needs only one more victory to notch 800 wins as a yokozuna. (16:05)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 7)

We’ve made it to the middle weekend of the Aki Basho, and the number of undefeated rikishi is down to four—yokozuna Kakuryu, yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Takayasu, and M9 Hokutofuji. Both yokozuna Kisenosato and sekiwake Mitakeumi lost for the first time yesterday, but they’re still with a strong group (which includes ozeki Goeido) that trail the leaders by just a single loss.

Kisenosato had been living dangerously for the previous few days, showing his strength by pulling wins out of bad situations, and proving to fans that he still has the strength and skill of a yokozuna. But at the same time, those matches also showed that he’s still only running at about 75% of his former ability. The big question is how he’ll do over the course of Week 2, when he starts having to face the ozeki and his fellow yokozuna. Will he be able to notch a few wins? If not, he may yet have trouble securing a kachi-koshi [majority of wins], and if that happens there’s a very real chance that he will retire from sumo.

Mitakeumi, on the other hand, lost to Goeido who, after stumbling out of the gate on Day 1, has seemed to gather strength and confidence as Week 1 went along. Mitakeumi is on a push to get promoted to the rank of ozeki, and in order to do that he’ll need to notch at least 10 or 11 wins, and some of those are going to have to come against ozeki and yokozuna opponents. I’d have said that Goeido was going to be his most likely place to get a win, but ozeki Tochinoshin has been looking out of sorts AND had to get six stitches above his right eye after a head-bonking tachi-ai [initial charge] the other day.

Tochinoshin is also in a tough spot because he is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and he MUST get kachi-koshi in order to avoid that fate. He’s lost two matches in Week 1, though he came back with a win yesterday against M1 Ikioi, bringing Tochinoshin to a 4–2 record today. He needs four more wins to seal the deal, but it seems like at least two of those are now going to have to come against fellow ozeki or yokozuna opponents. 

There’s a lot of good sumo today, but here are the marquee matches.

M9 Hokutofuji (6–0) vs. M11 Sadanoumi (4–2)—One of our co-leaders, Hokutofuji, who is ranked a little below his actual ability, so he really should have a relatively good shot at staying in the yusho hunt. If so, they’ll begin scheduling him tougher opponents around the middle of Week 2. (3:20)
M6 Onosho (2–4) vs. M4 Abi (4–2)—Two future stars, who have been having a little bit of trouble this basho. Onosho seems to be unable to get into the rhythm that made him so devastating in recent tournaments. Meanwhile Abi has been relying solely on thrusting attacks from his long arms, but his high-ranked opponents have figured out how to defend against that. (7:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–1) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (2–4)—After losing yesterday, Mitakeumi has to get back on the winning track quickly if he wants to keep his hopes of an ozeki promotion alive. Meanwhile, 2–4 isn’t a bad record for a komusubi (who has had to face mostly yokozuna and ozeki in Week 1), and Takakeisho has looked strong and aggressive in all of his matches so far. (8:50)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (2–4) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (4–2)—A pairing that fans of power sumo ALWAYS look forward to. Tochinoshin needs to get another couple of wins under his belt before he starts facing the top rankers. Meanwhile, Ichinojo needs to remember what winning sumo feels like. (10:40)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (5–1) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (2–4)—Kisenosato wants to bounce back from his first loss yesterday and get back in a winning way. It’s important to him that he get his kachi-koshi quickly and LOOK like a yokozuna should look. Making matters even more challenging for him, about two minutes before this match, a previous combatant fell off the dohyo and onto Kisenosato’s right ankle. (13:15)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6, one-third of the way through the Aki Basho, and there still are so many undefeated and one-loss rikishi to say that a real “leaderboard” has formed yet. That’s incredibly competitive sumo, and a super exciting tournament! The 5–0 rikishi include all the yokozuna, one ozeki, and one sekiwake.

The big name match of the day yesterday was definitely sekiwake Mitakeumi against ozeki Tochinoshin. Mitakeumi came in with a perfect 4–0 record, and Tochinoshin was coming in at 3–1 after suffering his first loss on Day 4. Besides the loss, Tochinoshin also got six stitches above his right eye from that match, which only added to the pressure he’s under to get his kachi-koshi quickly and eliminate his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. For some reason, though, Tochinoshin led with his right shoulder at the tachi-ai [initial charge] and was pushed back at the start. Mitakeumi looked strong, confident, and laser-focused on his goal and won with very little fuss.

The question for me is whether Tochinoshin’s stitches are going to give him trouble at EVERY tachi-ai . . . and if they are, can he manage to get the five more wins he needs to get kachi-koshi? His Week 2 is going to be filled with matches against yokozuna and fellow-ozeki, so he’d better get back on track quickly if he wants to keep his spot at sumo’s second-highest rank.

The weirdest match of the day yesterday was the day’s finale—yokozuna Hakuho against komusubi Takakeisho. Komusubi is the toughest rank on the banzuke [ranking sheet] because you have to start every tournament fighting the yokozuna and ozeki, as Takakeisho’s 1–3 record proved. But the young rikishi has been energetic and given his best against all of his opponents so far, and he brought that same spirit to the Hakuho match. In fact, he managed to get the upper hand against the yokozuna. But Hakuho is still the greatest rikishi of his generation, probably all-time, and his speed and reflexes are still the best in the game. Despite being off balance and with his back to his opponent, Hakuho was able to recover and move far enough out of reach that Takakeisho found himself lunging at open air, only managing to grab at Hakuho’s retreating left calf. This let the yokozuna make an “olé” spin and send the komusubi face down onto the clay. Oh, and of course all this happened over the course of about six seconds. Like I said, weirdest match of the day . . . but still absolute proof of Hakuho’s near-absolute dominance.

I’m sure we won’t see anything like that today, but here are the matches of the day.

M1 Kaisei (2–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (5–0)—Despite coming into the basho with recurring lower back pain, Takayasu has managed to hang tough each and every day. Kaisei, on the other hand, has brought a lot of his A-game here in Week 1, but has had the bad luck of facing a bunch of top ranked opponents (that’s what your Week 1 is like when you’re at M1). (10:15)
Ozeki Goeido (4–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–0)—Talk about a marquee match! Two past yusho [tournament championship] winners. An ozeki who is fighting to stay in the yusho race against a sekiwake who is pushing for a promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank. It’s hard to believe they didn’t save this pairing for over the coming weekend! (11:05)
M1 Ikioi (0–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–2)—Tochinoshin has dropped two matches in a row, and really needs to get back on track NOW if he wants to save his ozeki rank. He’s got a lucky pairing today as Ikioi is having a lackluster basho, and is unlikely to do anything particularly tricky. However, he is a tenacious rikishi, and Tochinoshin has looked a little off his game this whole tournament. (12:05)
M3 Shodai (2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Like yesterday’s Hakuho bout, all I’m going to say is that this is a very surprising match. (13:00)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (5–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (0–5)—Kisenosato is still undefeated, but of all the yokozuna, he’s the one who’s danced closest to the verge of defeat day after day. It would be good for him to just get a straightforward win, and luckily his opponent today has been having a really disappointing basho so far. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Aki Basho dawns to a sight that the sumo world hasn’t seen for twenty-nine years! Back in March 1989, in Osaka at the Haru Basho, was the last time that three yokozuna reached Day 5 of a tournament and ALL still had unbeaten records. That’s 12–0 between them. In that tournament, the three yokozuna in question (Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and Onokuni) all kept their perfect records through Day 11, an incredible 33–0 for the grand champions. Eventually, the great Chiyonofuji went on to take that yusho [tournament championship] (his 27th) with a 14–1 record.

Of course, here in the present Aki Basho, we ALSO have ozeki Takayasu and sekiwake Mitakeumi still with unblemished records. And between them, yokozuna and ozeki currently have a 22–2 win/loss advantage. And not all of those wins have been what you’d call “dominant.” Yesterday, yokozuna Kisenosato got pushed to the very edge by M1 Kaisei, and ozeki Tochinoshin needed a two attempts to bring down komusubi Tamawashi. But all of that is part and parcel of what’s making this the most exciting basho in a very long time. 

Another slice of history that’s taking place in this tournament is the return to the Makuuchi Division of M13 Takanoiwa. He has never been a particularly dominant rikishi (his highest rank was M2 in March 2017), so you’re to be forgiven if you don’t remember that name, but over the last year he’s been key in developments at the top of the sumo world.

Takanoiwa was the rikishi who was attacked by then-yokozuna Harumafuji last October—an incident that ended up with Harumafuji’s forced retirement and expulsion from sumo. It’s still not completely clear what happened, whether Takanoiwa was hit with a glass ashtray or a TV remote control, but whatever the details, he was kyujo [absent due to injury] for the next two tournaments and dropped all the way down the banzuke [ranking sheet] to J12 in the Juryo Division. But Takanoiwa perservered, winning the Juryo yusho in July, and is now back in the top division and is 2–2 so far this basho.

We have a second kyujo [absence due to injury]. M2 Yutakayama is out with an elbow strain that he apparently suffered in his Day 3 fight against Kisenosato. On a side note, after his hard tumble off the dohyo yesterday, I was expecting to see M10 Aoiyama take at least a day off, but so far he’s planning to fight through the pain.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Hokutofuji (4–0) vs. M8 Kotoshogiku (3–1)—Two rikishi who are ranked a little bit lower than their skill level and who both are giving strong performances so far this basho. They both want to get back toward the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet], but only one can take a step in that direction today. (4:50)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–0) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–1)—Here’s another marquee match early in the tournament. Mitakeumi won the previous yusho [tournament championship] is undefeated so far in this basho, and has the possibility of a promotion to ozeki if he can get 10 or 11 wins overall. Tochinoshin is in his second basho ranked as an ozeki, he lost his match yesterday, and he is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] so he must get kachi-koshi, which requires a strong Week 1. On paper, this should be the best match of the day.  (10:15)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–0) vs. M3 Shodai (2–2)—Kisenosato is unbeaten, but he’s had to work very hard to get his last two wins. He’s definitely showing a yokozuna’s determination, but the only question is for how many days he can keep this up. (12:50)
Komusubi Takakeisho (1–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (4–0)—All I’m going to say is that this was definitely the weirdest match of the day. (14:05)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 4)

Things are looking pretty good at the Aki Basho. Here we are on Day 4 and all three yokozuna are still undefeated. Granted that’s really how it SHOULD be, but over the past year or two this kind of steady performance at the top of the banzuke has been in short supply. As if to prove that point, kadoban [threatened with demotion] ozeki Tochinoshin got a little over anxious yesterday and wound up giving up a sloppy loss to komusubi Takakeisho, meaning that only one of the three ozeki—Takayasu—still has a perfect record.

Of course, yokozuna Kisenosato only barely pulled out a win in his match yesterday against M2 Yutakayama. He needed a nifty maneuver at the tawara [straw bales that mark the ring’s edge] AND a mono-ii [judges conference] to get win number three . . . but get it he did. 

Speaking of mono-ii, there sure were A LOT of them yesterday! This is a little weird because there were actually very FEW of them during the whole of July’s Nagoya Basho (I think the first one came on Day 8 or something like that). There were four or five of them yesterday alone.

Ozeki Goeido has bounced back strong from his Day 1 loss, and really looked the most dominant of all the top-rankers in yesterday’s bouts. Of course, given his habits, that just might presage a big slip-up today. You never can tell with Goeido. Just when you think he’s firmly going one direction of the other, he’ll have a mental slip and suddenly turn things around (for good AND ill). 

We have our first kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho. M11 Kyokutaisei has withdrawn after hurting his knees so badly yesterday that he wasn’t able to squat to accept his winning envelopes. His opponent today was supposed to be Ryuden, who could use a freebie to get himself back on track.

Now, let’s have a look at today’s top matches.

M9 Hokutofuji (3–0) vs. M10 Aoiyama (0–3)—Hokutofuji is picking up where he left off in July, looking strong and focused so far this basho. On the other hand, something isn’t clicking for Aoiyama—maybe his legs are still bothering him, maybe it’s something psychological, but he just hasn’t seemed ready in his first three matches. (3:55)
M7 Shohozan (2–1) vs. M8 Kotoshogiku (3–0)—Kotoshogiku has been looking rejuvenated this basho, but I think that’s mainly based on the quality of his opponents rather than any revival in the former-ozeki’s sumo. Today he faces Shohozan, who is a rough and tumble scrapper who doesn’t give anyone an easy time. (5:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinoj0 (1–2)—Another one of the interesting big-name match-ups coming earlier in the basho than usual thanks to the large number of yokozuna and ozeki in competition. Ordinarily, the two sekiwake wouldn’t face each other until sometime in Week 2. Mitakeumi is still on track to make a run at an ozeki promotion (he needs 10 or 11 wins to get there), but he’s got a BIG opponent today. On the other hand, with the exception of an impressive performance on Day 1, Ichinojo has looked like his old. lumbering, clueless self for most of this tournament. (9:25)
Komusubi Tamawashi (0–3) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (2–1)—Tochinoshin lost his first match of the basho yesterday, but since he’s kadoban, he’s got to get himself back on track quickly. For his part, Tamawashi lost a close match yesterday to Mitakeumi, and he’s getting a little desperate to notch a win somewhere here in Week 1. (10:05)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (3–0) vs. M1 Kaisei (1–2)—Kisenosato gets a big challenge today in the form of a big opponent—Brazilian Kaisei. For his part, Kaisei has been bringing his A-game fairly regularly, so this could be a very interesting bout. (13:15)